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Hilarity At the Hospital?
Andy Bustanoby
(C) Febuary 12, 2005

     I really feel sorry for hospital patients who get visitors who don't
     have a clue as to what a visitor should do. What is the protocol for
     a hospital visitor?  The Apostle Paul tells us that if you have the
     spiritual gift of mercy, "do it cheerfully" (Rom. 12:8).

     I'm afraid that some visitors take Paul quite literally, for he uses
     the Greek word, hilarotes, from which we get the English word,
     hilarity.  Believe me, if the patient has had an abdominal incision,
     cracking jokes and making him laugh is the last thing you want to

     What is Paul getting at when he says this?  He's addressing the
     thinking of the pagan Greek.

     The Greeks in the first century connected the idea of mercy with
     fear.  They felt that when we see someone suffering, it is
     reasonable to fear for ourselves because we may suffer the same
     fate.  Therefore, we show mercy.

     The Stoic Greeks, on the other hand, regarded mercy as a human flaw,
     a sickness of the soul.  Their philosophy was that people should be
     free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without
     complaint to unavoidable necessity.

     Into this culture comes these Christians with a radically different
     approach to mercy for those in pain and suffering.  Instead of fear,
     the Apostle Paul urges hilarity or cheerfulness.  He goes even
     further in his letter to the Romans where he says, "We rejoice in
     our sufferings . . . "(Rom. 5:3).  And the Apostle James says,
     "Blessed [happy] is the man who endures trial . . . "(Jas. 1:12).

     The Greeks must have been saying, What's with these people?
     Suffering doesn't provoke mercy and fear.  It provokes a mercy that
     brings cheerfulness and happiness!

     Before you go off for a hospital visit to cheer up a friend,  let me
     offer this perspective. The New Testament view of suffering is
     beautifully illustrated by the story of Job in the Old Testament.
     God's purpose in permitting Job to suffer at the hands of Satan was
     to teach him, and all of us, that whatever happens, it comes from a
     loving God who knows what He's doing.

     Paul, in Romans 5 illustrates this when he tells us that the outcome
     of endurance under trial is the building of character and out of
     character comes hope from the love of God shed in our hearts by the
     Holy Spirit.  James does the same when he declares that the tried
     soul is happy when he endures because he will receive a crown of
     life--eternal life, the hope that enables him to bear the hurt.

     The difference between the Christians and the pagan Greeks was that
     the Christians believed in a God who loved them and knew what He was
     doing.  Suffering wasn't something to be met by a mercy gripped with
     fear or borne by grim self-determination.  It was an attitude of
     quiet confidence in their God that brought peace to the soul.

     Several years ago I underwent surgery for a cancerous prostate
     gland.  The doctor told me that even though the known cancer was
     removed, he could not guarantee that I was cured.  Cancer could show
     up somewhere else.

     When I went to the hospital, I told my wife to discourage anyone
     from visiting.  I was taking with me all the comfort I needed.  I
     was going with the knowledge that God loves me and knows what He's

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